Skip to main content

At Memory's Table



I am overwhelmingly grateful to have been sitting “at memory’s table” my entire life. By that I mean, though my parents had moved me and my siblings to several states and back to Texas by the time I was in 4th grade, the people in my life were stable and family connections were so strong that absorbing our shared history was unavoidable.  And food was inseparable from that.

Orsak family reunion

My parents are fascinated by both history and food. My maternal grandmother lived in her house (and her kitchen) for over 70 years. All branches of my grandparents’ families have had reunions—for decades and decades—with fantastic food. Though my parents were adventurous eaters, we definitely grew up with weeknight staple meals that all my siblings can name and remember. Tradition is extremely important for us, resulting in a Christmas eve meal that includes dishes served continuously for over a century. Historically people have lived a long time in my family, so my parents and I and my children all grew up loving and hearing stories of the past from older, sometimes much older, people. I grew up with a strong ethnic background (Texas Czech) which grounded me in a particular community with its own history and food traditions. Each of these forces has shaped my obsessions with food, with family connections, with the vestiges of history present all around us at every moment if we're open to them, either by knowledge or by memory. 

Chicken noodle soup at the Victoria Czech Fest

Eating ginger cookies reminds me of my great aunt Bessie, who used to make sweet handmade crafts. Scrambled egg sandwiches are comforting to me because I associate them with being taken care of by my mother when recovering from an upset stomach. Czech chicken noodle soup makes me think of the joy and togetherness of church picnics and family Christmas gatherings. I assume (hope) that everyone is comforted by at least a few dishes whose smell or taste is associated with a nurturing person, happy event, or other positive memory. I believe that the recipes for dishes like these should be preserved and shared. I’ve collected cookbooks all my adult life and the ones that I look through the most reflect these things. They focus on either a particular culture or region’s food, illuminate a particular time period, or are a reflection of the author’s family. 

My grandmother, Anita (Morkovsky) Kallus, in her kitchen

I am offering my passion for all things food, family, and history along with my writing, organization, and planning skills in service through At Memory’s Table, my new business. I want to help people record and share their own memorable dishes through a family cookbook or recipe cards, or plan a unique family reunion, or create a book or game that allows them to preserve family stories and history. The website for the business is here and I invite you to take a look. Contact me if you’re interested in my services or keep reading my blog, which I will continue with. And thank you, readers, for your kind comments over the last 8 years of this blog. Your interest and encouragement have inspired me and I am grateful.

Since this is a food blog, I offer the recipe below for the ginger cookies I mention above, made by my great aunt Bessie (Morkovsky) Kocian.
 
Bessie (Morkovsky) Kocian

Ginger Cookies

2/3 cup vegetable oil
1 cup sugar
1 egg
4 tablespoons molasses
2 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
2 teaspoons powdered ginger 

Put vegetable oil in a bowl, add sugar and stir. Add egg and beat until creamy. Stir in the molasses. Sift dry ingredients together and add to the mixture. Form small balls, the size of a pecan, and drop onto a plate of white sugar. Coat the ball with sugar on all sides and place on an ungreased cookie sheet. Bake at 350 degrees until "crinkled", then place on top shelf until slightly browned. Remove from the pan while hot and place on a rack to cool.


Comments

Popular posts from this blog

How to Eat Texas Czech in October

October is Czech Heritage Month in Texas. What a fitting excuse to eat and learn about Czech and Texas Czech traditional foods. At the bottom of this post are several events at which you can do just that.

If you want to cook Czech food in October, by all means cook local and seasonal. In Texas in October, there are lots of fruits and vegetables to buy at your local farmers market that are widely used in the Texas Czech kitchen. Here are some suggestions.


apples and pears - make kolach fillings, pies, and bundt cakes, or pear preservescauliflower - make fried cauliflower or pickled cauliflowercabbage - make sauerkraut, fried cabbage, zelniky (cabbage kolaches), slaw, or sauerkraut saladokra - make stewed okra with tomatoes
Last weekend I tried yet another sauerkraut recipe (pictured above), this one with apples and potatoes. It was just the right balance of sweet and sour and rich and tangy. I used Granny Smith apples so things didn't get too sweet and served it with pan-fried sausag…

May Fest and 24 Kolaches

Sometimes a person just needs 24 kolaches. I have dough recipes that make as many as 6 dozen, but sometimes I just need 24… staff appreciation day at my son’s elementary school, or a monthly staff meeting at work, or (today) a contribution to the dessert table at Slavnost (May Fest) at the Texas Czech Heritage and Cultural Center (TCHCC) in La Grange. I am a member of the Travis-Williamson Counties chapter of the Czech Heritage Society, but hardly ever go to meetings. The chapter was in charge of the dessert table at the event today, so I decided to finally volunteer with them and also contribute something to the $1/dessert table. I failed to ask what they needed, so brought a pan of kolaches, which the event actually buys from Weikel’s in La Grange.

Other chapter members and TCHCC supporters – all experienced bakers and dessert makers – brought poppyseed and other cakes, apple strudel, pecan and cherry pies, cookies, peach cobbler, brownies and other delicious things.
I wanted to br…

What I Learned Making 600 Kolaches

The last week in July, I launched a home baking business called Old School Kolaches, offering pans of made from scratch kolaches, delivered to customers' doors. I got laid off in April and in reaction to scrolling endlessly through disheartening job boards at 50 years old, I decided I'd try doing something I'm good at and passionate about that also pays some of my bills (work and love don't always go together unfortunately.) It remains to be seen whether this can be instead of or in additional to a standard 9 to 5 job for me.

Austin, though it's the state capitol, is a wasteland when it comes to traditional kolaches. The one place I went to here that had decent kolaches closed down only weeks ago. There are instead two kolache bakery chains, countless donut shops that offer hotdogs wrapped in croissants or tasteless dough and call them kolaches, or one hipster beer and kolaches place that "elevates the classic Central Texas Czech pastry to gourmet status" …